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The truth about TikTok filters

This essay reflects the thoughts and opinions of the author.

CONTENT WARNING: This piece discusses difficult topics regarding eating disorders and body dysmorphia, which may be distressing for some readers.

Ever since TikTok introduced filters, your FYP has probably been filled with perfectly made-up content creators. (Yep, these filters can change anything from the amount of makeup someone is wearing to the shape of their face.) While sticking a beautifying filter onto your next viral vid may seem harmless, there are actually several negative aspects to using them.

First of all, these filters can seriously warp your face. Even the ones that just seem to add pretty freckles or a brighter eye color can leave you with a reflection that has smoother skin, fuller lips or a smaller jaw. Why it's bad? It can lead to young people internalizing this apperance and believing that there must be something they are doing "wrong" if they don't look like the image on their screen. 

Filters can lead to "filter dysmorphia", a term coined to represent an obsession with perceived flaws in your face or body due to social media apps, including Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok. If you're constantly seeing a version of yourself that you deem as "better," it's highly likely that you'll end up resenting the real you—the you that isn't edited by filters. It can also lead to a sense of disconnection between your online self and your IRL self, due to the constant change in appearance.

Even scarier, the manipulation of images (and the disconnect you feel about your apperance) is linked to higher rates of eating disorders and anxiety.

If you start to feel that your self-esteem is taking a hit due to TikTok, don't hesitate to take a social media break. Breaks can help you develop yourself outside of a screen and learn to value the connections between your IRL friends, family and, of course, yourself. Even if it's for just a few hours, the benefits are amazing. 

Let's be honest: It's pretty unlikely that social media filters will lose popularity. But there are some steps that you can take to fix the dependence on them. First of all, if you *must* use a filter, stick to the ones that will make it clear to your brain that it *is* a filter. If you want to change your hair color or see film a video with cat ears, go ahead—but make sure to appreciate what you look like offline. You're gorgeous sans filter, and no social media app can change that. 

Going forward, think of your filter-clad vids as more of Harry Potter-style moving paintings, rather than a perfect reflection of you. And remember to talk to a trusted friend or therapist about any issues you may be facing with your body. Filters are fun, up until the point where you feel they're necessary to be valued. 

If you or anyone you know may be struggling with an body-image related eating disorder, reach out to: 

National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org)
Call or text NEDA’s hotline for support at (800) 931-2237 Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness (allianceforeatingdisorders.com)

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by Serena Sherwood | 3/9/2022
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